It was almost a year ago that Tim Finchem was named commissioner of the PGA Tour, a selection that surprised few but drew loud criticism from the ranks. Finchem had been a loyal No. 2 to his predecessor, Deane Beman, for five years and was widely perceived as a house guy. Under Beman's two decades of leadership, the Tour had become a tightly wound, defensive institution, and the appointment of Finchem—who has the same trim figure, compact stature and icy visage as Beman, unaffectionately nicknamed BB Eyes—promised more of the same.
Beman was also called, sarcastically, the Czar of Golf. As an empire builder who was obsessed with making the U.S. men's Tour the center of the sport worldwide, he won more often than he lost and, inevitably, made enemies. But his visionary thinking and aggressive style brought title sponsorship, stadium golf and fail-safe television contracts to the Tour, constructing a foundation that is the envy of every other pro sport.
Now, after 10 months on the job, Finchem has revealed himself as more than a Beman clone. He has laid his attractive personal style on top of Beman's foundation, and the combination is working so well that the golf world may soon call Finchem czar, but without the sarcasm.
Finchem, a 47-year-old lawyer who was a deputy adviser for economic affairs under President Carter in the late 1970s, became the Tour's deputy commissioner in 1990. As a classic righthand man, Finchem had a reputation as a henchman who did the dirty work, informing players when they were being fined, or hitting up sponsors for higher purses.
Keenly aware of the negative perception of himself and the Tour—as well as the widely held feeling among players that Beman had grown distant and secretive—Finchem made it his first priority as commissioner to talk face-to-face with every player and sponsor. Although Finchem does not have Beman's mastery of the fine points of the game, he is a low-handicap amateur who can hang with the pros on a practice tee. More important, he is a communicator, a former Virginia state high school debating champion who doesn't feel threatened by disagreement and who uses plain English to explain complicated matters.
Extending an olive branch, Finchem showed up at last year's Solheim Cup—the team competition between the U.S. and European women's pro tours. It was a gesture of goodwill toward the LPGA, and it also soothed Karsten Solheim, who had been bitterly at odds with the Tour because of Beman's ill-fated decision to ban square-grooved irons. Finchem has worked to improve his relationship with one of golf's biggest power brokers, the International Management Group, whose founder, Mark McCormack, never missed a chance to criticize Beman over what he felt was an isolationist approach to the U.S. Tour. And the new commissioner even wrote a conciliatory letter last summer to comedian Bill Murray, whom Beman had criticized for his behavior at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Finchem's fence-mending paid high dividends last November when the Tour was blindsided by Greg Norman's announcement of an independent, new World Golf Tour. The new commissioner took a hard line against the fledgling tour, just as Beman surely would have. But what was surprising was the way players, sponsors and leaders of other organizations almost unanimously got in line to support him.
What was most impressive was the way Finchem used his strength. While he knew it was important to squash the World Tour, he didn't want to embarrass Norman in the process. He flew cross country for a meeting with Norman, gave him a graceful way out and then went back to playing hardball with the organizers of the World Tour. And at Sawgrass last Wednesday—presiding at a press conference with the leaders of the pro tours in Europe, South Africa, Australasia and Japan—Finchem announced the formation of the World Forum of PGA Tours, to promote the kind of international events the World Tour was proposing.
"Tim beat Greg up, but he did it so smoothly that Greg didn't feel a thing," said one admiring observer. "With Deane, it might have been a bloodbath."
To Beman power meant domination. To Finchem increased power lies in partnership. As Beman said last week at a dinner in his honor, "I think I was the right man for my time, and I know Tim Finchem is the right man for today."